The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the financial precariousness of American households. Just one crisis or job layoff puts many families at risk of losing housing, health care or educational stability for their children. It also illuminated – and exacerbated – the child care crisis in this country. Before the pandemic, many families struggled to afford child care even as most child care workers earned low wages that were insufficient to achieve financial stability. But when the pandemic hit, many child care centers were forced to close due to lack of enrollment, health concerns or loss of staff. When centers temporarily closed, many staff sought other work, shrinking the population of child care workers who could return when the centers reopened. And they’re not coming back. As of early 2020, the child care sector had lost nearly 80,000 jobs, or about 7.5 percent of its workforce, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This long-term shortage of qualified child care workers has led some parents to leave the workforce because child care is either too expensive or nonexistent. Other parents without the option to forgo paid employment are forced to make impossible tradeoffs between safe, quality care for their children and their family’s financial survival.
Other structural challenges add to the complications for operators of early childhood programs. Start-up regulations and licensing requirements, while necessary for ensuring quality, create barriers to entry that make it hard for small business owners to start their own new centers. And the United States continues to be one of the few countries in the world that does not universally subsidize early learning, making it nearly impossible for child care providers to earn a living wage while keeping their services affordable to the average family.
That’s why the decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Administration of Children and Families, to launch the first National Early Care and Education (ECE) Workforce Center is so important. It will coordinate and provide technical assistance and rigorous research at a national level to advance the recruitment and retention of a diverse, qualified and effective ECE workforce. According to the announcement from HHS, “the ECE Workforce Center’s research and technical assistance activities will work together to: 1) build a career pipeline for the early care and education workforce, including support for pursuing credentials and degrees while maintaining the strong diversity of the early childhood sector; and 2) identify and implement sustainable approaches to increase compensation and benefits.”
Through a competitive process, the federal government selected six organizations to collectively launch the ECE Workforce Center and carry out its goals. Four of the six grantees are W.K. Kellogg Foundation grantees, and all six organizations have been at the forefront of national advocacy efforts to raise awareness about the need for federal government investment in early learning. The four WKKF grantees include:
The BUILD Initiative partners with state and community leaders across the country to promote equitable, high-quality child- and family-serving systems that result in young children thriving and learning. It has been working with state leaders to create policies, infrastructure and connections across agencies and organizations to advance comprehensive, high-quality and equitable programs, services and supports for young children, their families and communities. Their advocacy work is centered on helping leaders think and act systemically to address disparities and expand their networks and take action.
The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at UC Berkeley has been the national leader in early care and education workforce research and policy since 1999, providing analysis on the preparation, working conditions and compensation of the ECE workforce. It develops policy solutions and creates space for teaching, learning and education activism. CSCCE recently published its report assessing state-by-state use of American Rescue Act dollars and the opportunity to think and act differently about how to resource early education. Bold on Early Education Compensation Learning Community 2022: Lessons from State Actions shares lessons learned from the field.
Child Trends conducts independent, actionable research that describes and analyzes how children, youth and families are faring. It provides evidence-based technical assistance to programs and clearly communicates findings to policymakers and practitioners in accessible and actionable ways. It also conducts a range of activities to help organizations improve the efficacy of their direct services. Child Trends will lead the ECE Workforce Center, specifically directing the new center’s research and operations efforts.
ZERO TO THREE translates its expertise in the science of early childhood development into pioneering programs, field-leading training and resources and responsive policy solutions. As a membership-based organization, it provides a vibrant, connected community for professionals in diverse disciplines focused on child development who are committed to advancing their knowledge and skills. It seeks to create lasting, transformative change for children, their families and our collective future.
The other two organizations leading the ECE Workforce Center are the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at UMass Boston and the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood at the University of Delaware. Both are systems change drivers with long histories of research, education and equipping providers with data and tools to improve ECE providers, centers, staff and parents. The Institute at UMass Boston focuses on the development and support of a racially and linguistically diverse early education workforce, while the Institute for Excellence at the University of Delaware brings a number of grant initiatives, professional learning experiences and research projects.
The pandemic made it impossible to ignore the direct connection between companies’ economic success and their employees’ ability to find safe, quality and reliable child care. If we are to fully recover from the economic shock of the past years and come out more resilient on the other side, we need to provide families with stability – in particular, the knowledge that their children have safe and equitable access to care and education. The launch of this new National Early Care and Education Workforce Center is a crucial step toward that goal.
- Sakinah Harrison, Every Child Thrives, “Child care and preschool: Cutting costs for working families”
- Sakinah Harrison, Every Child Thrives, “Child care workers don’t earn a living wage – and that’s a problem for all of us”